Definition: A song/poem written in praise of a wedding.
Origin: The term was coined by Elizabethan Poet Laureat Edmund Spenser. It is derived from the Greek ‘pro’, referring to ‘before’, and ‘thalamos’, referring to the ‘bridal chamber’. Spenser’s 1596 poem written in honour of the double marriage of the daughters of the Earl of Worcester was entitled prothalamion. Since then, it has come to refer to all such songs/poetry.
Why this word?
The use of a prothalamion is a relic of a time past – when poetry was a means to ‘suck up’ and say nice things about rich people. In this poem, for example, written ostensibly about a double wedding, Spenser talks at length about Worcester’s war record in Spain. As you do…
He then goes on to give this efflorescent description of the wedding party:
…Two gentle knights of lovely face and feature,
Beseeming well the bower of any queen,
With gifts of wit, and ornaments of nature,
Fit for so goodly stature,
That like the twins of Jove they seem’d in sight,
Which deck the baldric of the heavens bright;
They two, forth pacing to the river’s side,
Receiv’d those two fair brides, their love’s delight;
In short: I chose prothalamion as my word because, in the Elizabethan world, it shows us the language at its most preposterous …
How to use the word prothalamion in a sentence?
I’m not sure I’d like to be at the wedding where the word prothalamion was generally understood – never mind one actually being used… I think that the aggrandizing prothalamion should be kept in reserve for the exclusive use of students of the history of literature.